By Carol Jones
Foster families understand, after training and after talking to other foster families, that fostering can be challenging. Most families don’t fully understand how stressful welcoming a foster child into their home can be. Stressors already in the home can be magnified by adding foster children to the equation.
Some of the things that can cause stress to the family are:
- Having unrealistic expectations regarding fostering and family life. The foster parents might be expecting that the foster child will fit right into their family only to find that the child’s background and previous experiences result in stressors for the entire family. Attachment for many foster children is something that takes months or even years. Foster parents have to be patient and consistent for what seems like very long periods of time. A child who walks into the home calling the parents Mom and Dad may be one of the children that takes the longest to actually bond. He/she just knows what you want to hear.
- Some parents feel that if their children fail it is somehow their fault. They expect that they will be able to solve any problems that might occur. An example is the situation where a child is failing in school and the parents don’t realize that they can only help. They cannot do the school work for the child.
- A new family member always changes the family roles and interactions. Children may have a feeling that all of this is happening without their having anything to say about it. Children may also feel competitive with the other children, whether siblings or the foster child. A spouse may feel neglected because of the time-consuming foster child. Extended family and friends might not accept the foster child’s behaviors and may exclude the foster family from activities and support. Foster parents may withdraw from potential support because of exhaustion or feeling that the whole family is out of control.
- Feelings of grief and loss when the placement ends or changes. All members of the family will have feelings when a foster child leaves. Even if the child has been very difficult, the siblings have shared day to day life and have had some good times. The loss of a foster brother or sister unsettles the family. Small children may even feel that they may have to leave also. The children should all be reassured.
- Coping with a foster child’s needs and behavior will many times take most of the time and energy available. Foster parents may find themselves dealing with multiple service providers some of whom aren’t foster care competent service providers. Advocating for appropriate services for the foster child is difficult for any parent.
- The foster child brings with him/her an agency foster care staff person/a DCFS worker/a Passe worker/a SL Regional supervisor. The foster parents may feel that their home is wide open to too many people. It may also stress the foster child when any or all of these individuals visit. Foster children who have been moved from home to home are waiting for the next move.
- New foster children with behavioral issues or health issues can bring with them additional paperwork and appointments for medication management or treatments. Many foster children have speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and sometimes hippo therapy.
- Another child added to the family brings new school teachers, meetings for IEPs with multi-disciplinary teams, and evenings monitoring homework or projects.
- Difficulty in finding substitute caregivers to provide occasional relief or respite. Respite is critical to refreshing oneself and the entire family. The foster child’s behavior or level of need might make it very difficult to get someone to take over for the family so that they can have even a weekend away.
- Insufficient preparation for fostering. No one can completely prepare a family for fostering, but an experienced trainer or previous foster parent can help the foster family through the first few months. Weekly visits are a good time to add to the foster parent’s knowledge and help them put together a day to day plan for living with the foster child.
- Dealing with visits to birth siblings or parents requires some training and support from experienced people. Birth families can be angry and defensive. They can see the foster parent as the person who took their child when that is far from the truth. Birth siblings may not trust you to take care of their brother or sister. It is important for the foster parent to try and understand the pain and even the embarrassment of the birth family as they struggle to deal with a life that has blown up. Birth parents may seem to have chosen drugs or a partner over their children, but they still love their kids.
REMEMBER, ASKING FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH